Viewfinding his niche

Viewfinding his niche
"This photo was taken by my kind friend Aik Beng Chia, it's also my profile shot in my book."

This street photographer found a gap in the market by documenting, well, the gaps on the MRT.

Called Please Mind The Gap, this series of MRT passengers shot through the space between platform and train doors has also found a number of fans through social media, design sites like Fubiz.net and has been featured on the Daily Mail Online news portal.

The man behind the series is Mr Chong Weilun, a 34-year-old advertising art director. He has been an avid photographer since eight, when he first got his hands on a camera - his father's Olympus XA compact.

These days, his equipment is far more advanced. Starting with a Canon DSLR, the last year has seen him switch to a more compact Sony RX1.

Mr Chong says: "(The series) has changed my perspective; all walks of life can be captured in the most unexpected places, in this instance, through a tiny gap."

His inspiration for the series happened by accident - ironically, by not minding the gap.

While he was trying to exit the train, he tripped and his phone was sent flying. Picking his phone up, he noticed something.

"Through the gap, I happened to see passengers boarding and alighting at the next door."

It was a moment of serendipity.

"I could photograph during my daily commute to work. I've been documenting life on the trains since."

He keeps to underground stations.

But it has not been easy. To capture these otherwise missed moments, the most difficult part for Mr Chong is focus and timing.

"It took me three months to figure out the perfect camera setting and to finally land a decent shot," he says.

"It was also a strain physically because most of the shots were taken during the rush hour. I had to manoeuvre between carriages looking for subjects while avoiding being a nuisance to other passengers."

With such an unusual technique, Mr Chong says he used to feel self-conscious of stares, especially when they came from those close to him.

"During the first year of this series, my wife and I were expecting our first child and I would step away to take photographs. My wife would give me funny looks of disapproval, but she got used to it eventually."

Mr Chong says he has yet to receive feedback from SMRT about his series. But one employee who had stopped him to ask what he was doing had thought the project was "interesting".

He has expanded the project to include Hong Kong, though Mr Chong says the distinction is more cosmetic.

"I like to think that passengers are the same regardless of which city they are in. They carry the same tense, expressionless look on the train."

Mr Chong found the response on social media surprising and unexpected. Submitting his work to a photography site, it started being shared within two hours of it going online.

While he has no plans to leave his day job, he has self-published a book of the series. "It sounds crazy but I published the book because I want to 'own' this idea," he said.


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